August 03, 2020

Cortez Masto Introduces Bill to Address Mental Health Equity and Access for Communities of Color

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) led a group of Senate colleagues in introducing the Mental Health Equity Act of 2020 to address the issues of suicide and mental health in youth with a focus on those in socially and economically disadvantaged communities. Senator Cortez Masto recently introduced a bicameral resolution to designate July as BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month. The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.). 

The Mental Health Equity Act of 2020 expands minority mental health access by supporting scientific research and increasing funding for existing federal programs. This legislation also provides grant funding over a period of five years to establish inter-professional health care teams at community health centers, rural health clinics, and behavioral health programs that predominantly serve people of color and to establish various health profession competencies to address racial and ethnic minority mental health disparities.

“The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating long-standing disparities in mental health access for young Nevadans of color. I’m proud to introduce legislation to help level the playing field by providing over $800 million in funding for culturally competent mental health services for Nevada’s vulnerable populations. By supporting programs that are dismantling structural barriers to accessing mental health treatment and prioritizing the expansion of behavioral health care in communities of color, this bill will help Nevada’s social and economically disadvantaged youth stay healthy and reach their full potential.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide remains the second leading cause of death among teens aged 15 to 19, with the suicide death rate among Black youth increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group according to the CBC’s report. Furthermore, a study published last year in the Journal of Pediatrics found that Black youth experienced a significant increase in suicide attempts between 1991 and 2017, with a greater rate of injury in boys, suggesting use of increasingly lethal means when attempting suicide.

The Mental Health Equity Act of 2020 would:

       Provide Grants for Culturally Competent Mental Health Services:

  • Authorizes $20 million annually for five years to establish inter-professional health care teams to provide behavioral health care at Federally Qualified Health Centers, rural health clinics, and behavioral health programs that predominantly serve people of color.
  • Authorizes such sums as may be necessary to develop cultural competency educational curricula so students training to be social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists can more effectively treat youth of color.  

     Increase Authorized Funding Levels for Research and Minority Fellowship Program:

  • Authorizes $650 million annually for five years for the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to conduct research on addressing mental and physical health disparities.
  • Authorizes an additional $100 million annually for five years for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build relationships with communities and support clinical research. 
  • Doubles the authorization of the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) to $25 million for five years to help more students of color become psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists.

    Direct Research and Resources at Federal Departments and Agencies:

  • Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a Commission on the Effects of Smartphone and Social Media Usage on Adolescents.
  • Prohibits federal funds from being used for conversion therapy and prohibits SAMHSA grants from going to states that continue to allow such practices.

This bill was developed in response to the Congressional Black Caucus’s (CBC) report on racial disparities in mental health care, and is the Senate companion to Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman’s (D-N.J.-12) Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Act of 2019 (H.R. 5469), introduced in November 2019.